It's time to laud Rohit Sharma for his fight, not his talent
Talent, in sport, is a double-edged sword.
Whenever an up-and-coming athlete wields his game with flair and fearlessness, the word of his/her 'talent' is splashed across sports media.
Be it Marcus Rashford's double strike on his Premier League debut, Nick Kyrgios' Wimbledon triumph over Rafael Nadal or Lebron James' record-breaking performance in his prep-to-pro match, 'natural talent' has always been a best seller to sports analysts and audiences.
However, almost every time, this term is associated with youngsters and it does them more harm than good. It can either compound the pressure that's already mounting on their shoulders or propel them into fame they're unready to handle.
The worst side-effect of this tag, though, is the perception that it creates about the youngster's work ethic. More often than not, it's assumed that those with talent do not work hard enough. Rather, that they do not need to work hard enough. Popular belief even ushers us to badge them with adjectives like lucky, lazy and lousy.
That is exactly what was done to Rohit Sharma in the first half of his career. He was accused of tardiness, his passion was always questioned and everything he did was subject to needless scrutiny.
Make no mistake, the man is extremely talented. In fact, there isn't a shot in world cricket that can match the cover drive that flows from his bat. It looks like every grain of the English willow recites poetry to the ball, and the ball glides to the boundary, energised by its verses.
Amidst all the beauty, he has a pull shot with the power to shake a laggard out of his stupor. Here, his bat does not make love to the ball. It destroys it. The blade defies the law of inertia, kills the delivery on its rise and slams it to 90 degrees to the right.
This immense ability that Sharma possesses is always considered to be his unique selling point. It has become the foreword, body, and epilogue of his story.
Maybe it is time to change that perception now.
Sharma's seamless talent tends to overshadow the immense grit that whirls within him. It has sidetracked his effort and exertion. However, it does not point to the challenges that the man has fought through till today.
In fact, he keeps getting them with every passing series.
The right-hander came into the ongoing ODI series after a hiatus of almost two months. As always, the pressure on him was colossal, courtesy Ajinkya Rahane's brilliant performance as his replacement for the West Indies tour in July. The man from Mumbai was rested for the ODI series and his fellow Mumbaikar went on to win the Man of the Series award in his position.
Sharma was given his spot as soon as he was back for Sri Lanka, but it was clear that there are talented players waiting in the wings to grab it up the moment he fails.
The setting was tough, more so with his average of 14.25 in 50-over cricket in Sri Lanka. In his last 6 matches on the island, he had scores of 4, 4, 4, 0, 0 and 5.
To add fuel to fire, he was run-out in the first match of the series. It further augmented the pressure on his shoulders.
The 30-year-old responded and how!
Chasing 231 in the second game of the series, he stitched a 109-run opening stand with Shikhar Dhawan. He looked steady and strong through the innings before perishing for a well-played 54 in the match. His innings was crucial from India's perspective, but he still didn't look his vintage self.
His naysayers quietened down, but their questions persisted.
He answered them all in the very next game, where he scored his first century in Sri Lanka and helped seal the series for India. It was his 5th century in a chase and 12th overall. The feat has now placed him with Indian great Rahul Dravid, who scored 12 international centuries in his entire ODI career. That, in itself, speaks about the importance of his achievement.
The innings had everything. He cut, pulled, drove and flicked. He rocked onto his back foot, he danced around the wicket, he leaned onto his front foot: his feet were as light as a dancer, his hands with the control of a swordsman.
He drove Angelo Mathews to the cow corner, he cut Lasith Malinga to deep point, he glided Milinda Siriwardana through the covers and he smashed Akila Dananjaya over mid-wicket. Dananjaya's turn, which again caused problems for other batsmen, was read like a book by Sharma, who had no problems dealing with his variations.
As for Dushmantha Chameera, he was the right-hander's bunny throughout the game. Every time he was brought on, ball boys at the boundary had a job to do! Collaborating with MS Dhoni, he built a 159-run partnership to win the game as well as the series for India.
The right-handed batsman was called India's "Maggi-man" once. His failure was mocked, his frustration was laughed at
Today, he walks into matches that have the pressure of a stove vessel and fearlessly takes guard for his team. After that, he does not know how to stop. He does not stop until he puts dents in its walls. He does not stop until the situation loses all its heat. He slams it, crumbles it and tosses it away. He converts it into a seamless cold and lets his opposition know that winter has come indeed.
He isn't the Maggi man anymore. Instead, he is magnificent. He is malignant. He is mesmerising.
Sharma does not possess the calmness of MS Dhoni. He isn't articulate like Virat Kohli. He does not have the swag of Dhawan.
However, he has undying reserves of his
talent fighting spirit. Every time he is doubted, he shows why he's here to stay. Every time he's mocked, he finds a way to win.
It's time we laud him for his unquenching spirit, not his innate ability. The fact that he has scored at least 120 runs in each his last ten centuries shows that he isn't lazy.
He's hungry. He's passionate. He's hardworking.
No athlete can sustain in international cricket riding on the back of talent alone. Sharma has lasted more than a decade. He hasn't just survived, he has thrived. His shots, which look so effortless to the eye, are actually the result of incessant, insane and immense effort.
He isn't a sloppy youngster or a struggling senior. He is the vice captain of the national ODI team.
It's time he gets the respect that comes with it.